Editorial – March 2016: Connecting the emotional dots.

February 28, 2016 | By | Reply More

Hello everyone

Something that came out of my reading of ‘The Director’s Six Senses’ by Simone Bartesaghi this month is a reminder of the importance of emotional content in the use of story in any medium. His example from ‘Alien’ where Brett has his fatal encounter with you know what, also brings back something I said in last month’s editorial about why we continually re-watch our favourite films. There’s a high probability we must also like to re-capture the emotions we felt the first time around. The fact that we are also capable of repeating some of the emotions also tends to indicate the skill of the director in knowing how to make us jump. Think of that with ‘Jaws’ and how you still jump when the decapitated head appears in the wreckage of that boat. You know it’s coming but not always sure when than WHAM! Whether it’s Spielberg or whoever, the essence is to make the connection to you, the viewer or reader, that will make you share a similar emotion. It’s when that connection isn’t made or even subconsciously you know something is missing then you have a problem and a lack of communication.

This is true of any genre and especially Science Fiction. After all, so much of it is set in the future, technologically different or with an element that we don’t have in our current reality, that the only thing relatable is the emotional content of the characters to something we recognise in ourselves.

Always remember: the universe doesn't care.

A lot of the basic emotions in any genre are things we should be able to connect with either first hand, know someone who has or can sympathise with. This is often why we can make the connection with the pleasure of owning to the agony or death of a pet often quicker than that of either someone nearest and dearest dying because it is probably one of the strongest sets of emotions we develop when young. That and pet animals tending to have such short life-spans compared to relatives and friends. Even with nearest and dearest dying, the stronger emotions tend to be suppressed after a while or someone would be in continual grief, which is a problem in itself. It’s probably when watching war genre, unless we are led to identify with a character, seeing a multitude of people dying, it doesn’t sink in as strongly as we should expect. That alone should tell us something about our mindsets and how we protect ourselves from some emotional trauma. However, even some of that will leech in and when the mindset of a character or group of them don’t appear to register anything at all, then you have to wonder if either the author, director or actor has really conveyed the emotional content of the scene to make it work.

No matter the genre, the basic things of emotions of love and hate are fundamental to any sentient species. After all, they are opposite ends of the same thing. Is it any wonder that occasionally there is a mix of love but hate you somewhere in the middle for some people which brings an often deadly edge to their mindset. One has to wonder if in real life, our first encounters with alien species will reveal similar emotions and how extreme these are and, more importantly, how much they will react on them. One can only hope that love and hate exists as a universal concept or we will never make a connection with extra-terrestrials, let alone have similar tastes in everything else. When you consider the plaque on Voyager 2 heading towards the stars, the only gesture is the male figurine with his hand in the air, supposedly to mean ‘Hi’. One can only hope an intercepting alien doesn’t see it as rude or insulting or why the female figurine seems disinterested in communicating.

The more subtle emotions can also be strong emotions like grief can also display how much something can be cared for. Grief invariably leaves a hole of loss in the mind that can take time to heal or at least reduce the intense sadness down to levels that can be lived with. Even when someone has lived a decently long life-time to those who are cut down early, there is always the feeling of loss when they are no longer there.

In contrast, happiness can be more intense, lasting for moments comparatively. You laugh at a joke but then move on. This emotion is something that keeps many personalities buoyant than in the doldrums and certain can pull anyone up when they feel down or depressed. Oddly, it is also one of the things many writers tend to overlook when writing stories. This isn’t a call to put jokes into stories. Good-humour often comes from recognising something about a situation that has less than a dark side to it and bluntings its edge or puts in perspective. If anything, it tends to give a balanced reaction although this might be seen as a British thing where we are far more likely to break the atmosphere with a wry joke or song before going into war or whatever the situation calls for. I suspect of all the emotional content, many writers think that they can’t do much with this as they don’t see themselves as comedians or have their sense of timing, although really it has more to do with recognising how it gives some insight into a situation that can be shared. Mind you, it also helps if the reader also has a sense of humour and how intent they are in the story’s information.

Conveying fear, as described in the opening paragraph, is probably easier to achieve. There are a lot of things that are scary. I’m always taken back to Stephen King saying one of his fears was sliding down a banister and then discovering it is covered in broken glass. I think anyone from either sex is likely to go more than ouch at that thought. If real, it’s the kind of pain that you aren’t likely to come back whole from. The fear of the unknown, jumping out of the shadows or whathaveyou demonstrates how quickly we react when our emotions are allowed to act first. No doubt in our more primitive times, such a reaction was healthy and needed to do something than an intellectual response. If anything, it does tend to support the idea that aggression is secondary to fear and needs some training to react differently.

Giving characters in a story emotional responses to a situation often depends on giving them your own. After all, you can’t really borrow anyone else’s. However, well and truly, these emotions are similarly to us all and they make the connection of sharing to the reader. We share emotions in groups all the time in real life. It is a remarkable facet of our own personalities that we can also perceive that from film or paper as well providing that they are honest emotions. Of course, if they aren’t, then we should recognise they are not and that is often the way of the villain or con man or woman of the piece. Then again, it is worrying when we can’t tell the difference but does that tell us more about them or us?

As a supplement to this, character emotions, by and large, tend to be rather too honest whether they are good or bad people. I think that tends to indicate more about the writer’s own mindset. They want to make things black and white or good and evil in explicit terms so you can tell the types of characters apart quickly without having to have them wear white or black hats to tell them apart. In more recent times, with the anti-hero or, at best, an interested party not willingly drawn in, the dividing line is somewhat different but will always delineate on either side of that choice. For the writer, viewer or reader, there is always the desire for some level of redemption.

Notice also that these emotions are basic and rarely complicated or rather not cross-combining them too much. On paper, I’d doubt if you can pick up more than one emotion at a time. You might recognise a character’s duplicity but it’s rare to find them all doing it, mostly because the reader won’t be able to track that on so many characters at the same time. Then again, if they all had the same detailed emotional mindsets it would be hard to keep track. Even with groups of con men and women, there has to be some diversity to tell them apart or why would you need so many?

For actors, other than knowing the lines and not bumping into the furniture, the most important thing to them is understanding the nature of the emotions they are going to convey within a particular scene. Anything else is secondary. If we as writers understand and can convey this as well then we are helping our stories along as well.


Thank you, take care, good night and don’t forget to measure the emotions you think you should be feeling about things.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


A Zen thought: Even good advice is only applicable to some people.


Observation: Does anyone else wonder on why thin beards are associated with evil or is it just a devil thing?


Observation: If something is ‘reduced to clear’, how come I can’t see through them?


Observation: Why would you need two people to steer a space rocket in the early days of SF TV series and films? I mean, what happens if they decide to go in opposite directions?


Observation: Have you ever wondered why the traditional dragon looks remarkably like a swan? After all, they have long necks, large wings to lift their body weight and tucking their legs in is something they both have in common. What better animal could be used as a body type? Then again, outside of birds, no true reptile has an extra pair of limbs to adapt into wings.



Category: Culture

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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